Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Knicks Beat Nets! Edging Ineptitude?

There were some strange things happening as Knicks fans pushed through the curved sloping corridor toward the 7th Avenue exit of Madison Square Garden after the team's 111-100 win over the New Jersey Nets last night. Spontaneous chants of NEW ... YORK ... KNICKS (but not new New York Knicks) spread through the departing crowd faster than a bed bug infestation through a Lower East Side tenement. As these chanting fans pushed through the glass doors out into the entryway there were two female Garden staffers exuberantly dispensing free-of-charge high fives. And, perhaps most surprisingly, there was a crowd surrounding the souvenir stand near the box office. Knicks fans were reaching for their already lightened wallets and clamoring for foam fingers and STAT t-shirts after a Knicks game? In recent years, such purchases were mostly made before the game and certainly no later than halftime. After the game was a time for lamenting how much money one had spent on such a poor product, for vowing not to come back until things were different.

Well, they are. And, apparently, enthusiasm and largess are qualities shared by supporters of successful teams. I almost forgot.

After all, it has been since January 4, 2005, when Brooklyn-born Lenny Wilkens was stoically coaching a team featuring fellow Kings County native Stephon Marbury, that the Knicks went to sleep with a winning record this "late" into the season. That 2004-2005 team lost its game on 1/1/05 to Sacramento Kings, bringing its record to 16-15. A loss to Miami in the next contest, dropped those Knickerbockers to .500 and they've had yet to get back in the black any later than November until last night.

Fittingly, those Wilkens-Marbury Knicks began the franchise's backslide to the Summer of 2010 with a loss to the New Jersey Nets on New Year's Day 2005, just a few days before that dropping under the .500 mark. Heading into that 1/1/05 showdown with the Nets, the Knicks had finished the '04 portion of the schedule with a flourish, taking 8 of their last 12 to go three games over .500 at 16-13. Marbury had yet to acquire any facial tattoos and was still putting up those Oscaresque stats, posting back to back 30+ point games and ranking among the league leaders in assists. Asked about his recent run of success the day before taking on Jason Kidd's Nets, Marbury said:
"Don't get me wrong, I love Jason Kidd, he is a great point guard. [But] how am I comparing myself to him when I think I'm the best point guard to play basketball? That makes no sense. I can't compare myself to somebody when I already think I'm the best. I'm telling you what it is. I know I'm the best point guard in the NBA."
The self-proclaimed "best point guard in NBA" did score 31 points to go along with 8 assists, 4 boards and 3 steals in that game against the Nets, but Kidd orchestrated a win for his team. One of many that would come at the expense of the Knicks in the ensuing years. Aside from James Dolan's subsequent proclamation about "evident progress" under Isiah Thomas, perhaps no remark better exemplified the franchise's lack of self awareness during this post-Ewing slog through the wilderness of ineptitude.

During the team's stay in the hinterlands, few losses rankled Knicks fans more than those beat downs administered by Kidd and the Rutherford Runners Club. Knowing that we kept the Knicks flush with season ticket money and concession sales through all those lackluster efforts and that we grabbed tighter than Sophie to Jan to any glimmer of fire made those losses sting more than most. We Knicks fans cheered DEEE-FENSE at the tops of our lungs during midweek fourth quarters whenever it was vaguely appropriate while the Nets struggled to draw enough folks to justify opening up the second case of beer at a block party. It burned me up how that organization could field a team that just killed our team. We cared so hard and so fruitlessly and few things pointed that out more than losses to the Nets. Which is a (predictably) long way of writing, that last night's win important for everyone in the building. Fans left cheering, Knicks players left with a winning record and the Nets left knowing that visiting the Garden has changed.

Observations, Retro-Predictions and Things Best Left Unsaid
-Amar'e Stoudemire is for real (on offense). He's the truth. He's the answer. He's not the Big Fella, but he's something and we need to do better than STAT in the nickname department. Unless of course that knee eventually fails and then he can just be the McDyess.

-The Felton-STAT pick-and-roll combination is getting tighter as is there overall comfort level. Perhaps the game's most emphatic bucket in the third quarter was scored after Ray sliced to the rim and diced the Nets' interior defense with a pass to Amar'e, who slammed it home.

-Brook Lopez can score the ball. Although the Nets second-year center played mostly unmolested with Ronny Turiaf still nursing a knee injury, the good son

-Jets closer/wide reciever Santanio Holmes was in attendance and got a loud ovation from the crowd.